Dominoes fall- business disruption and risk management in the COVID 19 environment

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It’s clear there is much of which to be concerned regarding novel Coronavirus 2019 (aka COVID 19), including  the direct impact of illness and death among those who have contracted the disease, and the indirect effect of closure of travel, quarantine, closures of schools, businesses, and frontiers. 

Who is considering the effect of the virus on local, regional, and global business?  Whether you believe in the extent of virility of the virus or not, one thing is certain- businesses across the globe are showing symptoms from COVID 19.  Is this an insurance disaster or unexpected new market?

Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance consultant, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners in his day job. He also serves the insurance and Fintech world as the ‘Insurance Elephant’.

Much of the production and retail business world lives with the two-edged sword of global interaction; on one edge a manufacturer in Barcelona can economically design and digitally source machine parts from a ten person shop located in Hubei Province in China, on the other edge is the disruption that may occur to the Spanish manufacturer if the machine shop is inactive or unable to produce a custom part.  Potential tech problems certainly predated the current viral outbreak, e.g., connectivity, ISP issues, in-house tech issues, etc., but having 59 million inhabitants of this province alone in question being exposed to and managed for contagion is a disruptive analog force that may affect business activity for weeks if not months, with figurative ripples being felt around the globe.

If one considers COVID 19’s global reach as of this writing ( WHO situation rep, 2/26/20220 ):

COVID

And the exposed population, cases and deaths in China alone:

COVID population

The magnitude and effect of the outbreak on just that 1.4 billion population becomes graphically clear.

Unless your business was affected by the SARS outbreak in 2004, affected by the more localized (but terrifying) Ebola virus, or mosquito borne diseases like Dengue or Zika, the business effects of outbreaks are typically small- unless you are immersed in the outbreak.  Businesses in Hubei Province in China certainly understand the effects, as millions of SMEs are shuttered due to the quarantine actions currently in place.  But, were you aware that Brazil reported 2.2 million cases of dengue in 2019 alone, with more than 700 deaths due to the outbreak?  Dengue does not have the quarantine requirement of COVID 19 so life goes on, but life is still disrupted as are businesses.  (full disclosure- the author contracted dengue while posted in a tropical environment- not a fun experience, but also not a disease where death is commonplace.)  The point- by degrees disease outbreaks can have far-reaching effects, and businesses must be aware and have risk management plans.  And you who have service industries and consider yourself immune to these issues- it’s a complex business ecosystem where all are affected.

For this article a deep dive into what’s covered by insurance and what’s not will not be taken- that would be too lengthy an effort for a Daily Fintech reader who needs an overview.  I can say that Business Insurance and Marsh and McLennan have a good summary document here, “Liability policies may respond to coronavirus” .  Travel insurers typically do not afford coverage if a traveler simply decides not to travel due to perceived risk (some policies have the ‘cancel for any reason’ option but it’s an exception placement.)  Suffice it to say that effects of outbreaks do no not fit well into insurance cover.

So what’s the point for this article?

Awareness and consideration of how outbreak ‘dominoes’ can affect your business, and are there insurance options that might provide financial protection?

Consider these quotations from the 2/25/2020 Economist:

“IF China is the world’s factory, Yiwu International Trade City is the factory’s showroom. It is the world’s biggest wholesale market, spacious enough to fit 770 football pitches, with stalls selling everything from leather purses to motorcycle mufflers.  Its reopening was delayed by two weeks because of the COVID-19 virus, the crowd was sparse and the dragon dancers, like everyone else, donned white face-masks for protection. “

And,

“The muted restart of the Yiwu market resembles that of the broader Chinese economy. The government has decided that the epidemic is under control to the point that much of the country can go back to work. That is far from simple. More than 100m migrant workers, the people who make the economy tick, are still in their hometowns, and officials are trying hard to transport them to the factories and shops that need them.”

An outlook from a visiting business person:

“Yiwu is testimony to some of the ways in which people far and wide will feel its economic effects. Agnes Taiwo, a businesswoman from Lagos, arrived in China just as it started to implement its strict controls to stop the outbreak. She had hoped to book a large shipment of children’s shoes and get back to Nigeria by early February. But nearly one month on, snarled by all the closures and delays, she has not yet been able to complete her order. And her return to Nigeria has been complicated because EgyptAir, the airline she took on the way over, has cancelled all flights to China. “This is serious,” she says. It is a sentiment that many others around the world are starting to share.”

The Economist states the case for China business concerns well; what of the cascading effects of supply chain disruption?

Let’s consider the potentials for risk management working backwards from end businesses:

  • Most business interruption covers are based on an occurrence of direct physical loss, either on premises or within a supply chain. Unfortunately, disease outbreaks are seldom considered direct losses, and in most cases are excluded causes of loss.

Continuing, how about:

  • Worker’s compensation?
  • Liability from infection from customers being on premises?
  • Directors and Officers cover if business results flag due to alleged poor planning?
  • Supply chain risk- all along the supply and transportation chain? Has just in time become a liability?
  • Loss of suppliers due to failures of businesses in the worst outbreak areas?
  • Actions of governments? Legal ramifications of non-compliance?
  • Employee actions due to extended periods of no work?
  • Loss of key staff due to inability to maintain salaries?
  • Loss or reduction of digital connectivity due to vendor issues caused by the outbreak?
  • Effects of civil unrest?
  • Interest rate risk from speculation?
  • Capital valuation changes due to stock market responses?
  • Inability to travel to affected areas where management oversight is critical?
  • Increase of cyber risk due to reduced attention to risk?
  • Reduced productivity due to requirements for and inefficiencies of virtual work?
  • Consider the effect that reduced business will have on governments and taxing authorities- will there be significant collateral effects for your business’ taxes, or services received from the government?
  • In the case of a significant outbreak in your area, what government services may be curtailed or cut, and how will that affect your key operations?

Attention, planning, and expectation for a worst-case scenarios are prudent courses as Mother Nature has ways to prove governments wrong.  Re-engaging 100 million workers is a huge undertaking for China, but so may be getting your staff back into routine after a week or two of preventive closures by authorities.

  • Dust off the business continuity plans prepared for natural disasters. Don’t look for the disease outbreak section, it probably doesn’t exist.
  • Contact your insurance broker, have the hard discussion and ask for a frank assessment of your business’s insurance. Ask for the specifics on supply chain, outbreaks, indirect losses, liability, D&O, etc.  What you will learn will be better than not learning at all.
  • Be upfront and inclusive with staff. They are smart, and know things you don’t.
  • Trade war activity over the past year has caused you to find alternative sources for products- contact those sources and solidify your position with them.

Going forward there are learnings for the risk management industry, and for any business that might be affected by issues related to outbreaks.  The availability of parametric insurance may become more commonplace, and the practicality of its inclusion in insurance plans will increase.

Consider the example provided by Parametrix, an Israel-based insurer recently awarded the UK Zurich Innovation Challenge (thanks to Mark Budd and Nicola Cannings who have kept me apprised of the contest’s outcome.)

While not an exact match for supply chain issue parametric cover, the company founded by Neta Rozy “creates parametric (claim-free) insurance for SaaS, PaaS and IaaS downtime such as cloud outages, network crashes, and platform failures. Their products help close a protection gap in business interruption insurance, tailored to the tech-reliant SMEs.”

Carry the parametric principle to supply chain interactions, or any business interaction where a disruptive trigger, or index can be identified, and a risk amount can be applied.  Business disruption due to a specific government command, for example, or supplier closure due to a WHO declared outbreak.  There may be many reasons why indemnity covers are unable to be written, but parametric options must be considered as an alternative.

While SMEs are the typical customer for Parametrix, there is basis for larger, more dispersed firms to consider alternate risk methods, almost as cat bonds might provide for natural disasters.  If an outbreak can affect global GDP to an amount of $1 trillion in lost growth, a globally established firm might suffer effects that are similarly material to its P&L and hedging the risk is prudent.

The key is that global outbreaks do occur,  perhaps not as potentially costly as COVID 19, but significant none the less.

Global reach, fragility of supply chain interactions, and business continuity demand different approaches, and provide the insurance industry new opportunities for risk products.

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Flood insurance- where the rising tide has NOT raised all ships

after-the-floodstl2___700x340

The problem is known, the data lakes related to the problem are deep, there are huge costs associated with it and plenty of human suffering.   Whole sectors of predictive data businesses have grown to better understand what is behind it, options abound in an attempt to mitigate its effects.  Governments around the globe spend billions in preparation for and response to the events.

So why isn’t flooding, flood damage mitigation, flood damage repair costs/financing, and flood insurance availability less of a global problem?

Patrick Kelahan is a CX, engineering & insurance consultant, working with Insurers, Attorneys & Owners in his day job. He also serves the insurance and Fintech world as the ‘Insurance Elephant’.

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The breadth of the problem

Aon indicates global economic losses due to flooding between 2011-19 exceeded $600 billion US, with only $111 billion insured, an amount that surely does not include all infrastructure and productivity losses, or loss of life.  A $500 billion cumulative coverage gap; surely things have improved during the nine-year period, yes?  No.  The latest three-year period indicates a coverage gap of 84% of flood losses, worse than the cumulative 81% during the decade.

Innovation’s Data Analysis Effects

Much has changed in flood risk prediction since the early 1970’s when public flood programs were introduced (e.g., National Flood Insurance Program in the US).  At that time and until recently efforts expended in determining flood risk for a subject area were through elevation mapping devised from physical surveys of respective areas.  These elevation determinations in conjunction with hydrologic data were the default tool.  Problem was that there were few if any insurance carriers that would write flood cover without subsidy from an area’s federal government. In fact, in some jurisdictions (like the US) flood cover could only be written within a government program.  Too much risk of a regional Probable Maximum Loss event, actuarial premiums would have been prohibitive, adverse selection would be the driver of the coverage chase, etc.  As such government programs were the default option, and even at that participation was low.  In the US an overall participation rate in flood insurance even as late as 2017 was less than 15% of properties.

There have been remarkable advances in mining and analyzing data to identify a property’s relative flood risk, and the probability of a significant flood event, some examples being:

  • FloodIQ.com, a product of tech innovator First Street Foundation allows the user to input an address within the US and obtain an idea of rising water’s effects
  • Previsico , not only has developed tech do assess probability of flooding in the UK, but includes live modeling during flood events and includes warning capabilities
  • FloodMapp , before, during, and after services- modeling, dynamic prediction and flood damage quantification for claims
  • Hazard Hub , has risk modeling data that in addition to NFIP flood maps model surge and even tsunami risk by property address
  • https://floodscores.com/ – provider of property specific flood risk info (thanks Sam Green)
  • https://www.floodinsuranceguru.com/- included this resource due to the firm’s unique approach to mastering flood tech methodology and applying that knowledge to risk assessment through flood maps.
  • Leveraging social media for warnings- Sri Lanka has had success notifying more remote villages of impending storms/flood potential. Penetration of smart devices provides a warning platform.  Other chronic flood regions like Bangladesh are beginning to see the need of tech warnings due to recent flood events.

Funding risk management

The extensive flood protection gap suggests that private funding of flood risk has been just a small part of overall flood insurance.  The US market has primarily had NFIP response (or ex post government/emergency funds to account for the coverage gap)- a US government flood insurance market that has continuously functioned as a deficit program due to subsidized rates, significant adverse selection/moral hazard issues, being seen more as a constituent response vehicle than an insurance scheme by congress, being administratively under-funded, and not being a mandatory participation plan so the volume of participants is too low to be self-sustaining.

Properties in flood-prone areas within the UK market of late have benefited from the Flood Re program where UK insurance carriers contribute to the flood insurance plan (as do property owners).  Without belaboring the functioning of the plan (take a look at the website) one can say it’s as much an effective hybrid industry/government/property owner plan as found anywhere.  Its plan is to function as is for a few decades then convert to a fully private plan.

In most countries the largest volume of response is in the form of government emergency finds, particularly for cleanup, infrastructure repairs, and immediate populace support.  While significant, these government responses are inefficient at best and typically delayed by legislative inaction. 

Where there is much optimism for funding is in the capital markets- catastrophe bonds and insurance linked securities (ILS).  Per the data found at artemis.bm, ILS and funds held for flood risk are a small portion of the more than $40 billion US held in the reinsurance/ILS market.  There is plenty of capital in the market, however, and the appetite for returns over those of typical financial market vehicles is building interest in ILS.  The complexity of reinsurance/ILS deals is increasing, as is the level of apportioning tranches of risk across hedging deals.  The key is that as private flood insurance becomes more available the need and interest in alternate risk financing will grow.  An 80+% coverage gap for a peril that is becoming increasingly more frequent, in combination with the trillions of dollars of property at flood risk will find ways to attract capital markets’ involvement, and as data availability and granularity increases the pricing of the vehicles will become even more sophisticated. 

Flood insurance going forward

A problem not considered often in the flood peril aftermath is that flooding affects not only individual property owners, but everyone within a flooded region.  Even the elevated property that is not flooded is affected; its residents are prevented from venturing out, cannot not shop at a flooded store, are unable to get municipal services due to closures, etc. And- the cost of government responses in the absence of insurance are borne by all within a community.  The other factor that is often overlooked?  Insurance proceeds ‘jump start’ recoveries with funds for local businesses; lack of widespread flood insurance cover leads to much less money on the street after an event.

Consider flood insurance penetration within the US- less than 15% of all property owners hold flood cover, and most who do keep it due to mortgagee requirements.  A recent article shared by RJ Lehman of the R Street Institute about the Mississippi flooding occurring as this article is written reinforces that most property owners will be left without a financial backstop for flood recovery (by the way- in the US an article like that is written after every flood or hurricane, the only copy that seems to change is the name of the city/town and the number of policies in force.)  The recovery will come without insurance- slowly, funded piecemeal until finally government funding will be made available.

Is it time for regional parametric programs funded by taxes and made available immediately after a trigger event?  Seems a really good idea since no matter what in the flood peril world the government is the funder of last resort, why not make it the quick response at no more cost than we are used to source? FloodFlash has proven event-based parametric flood cover to be effective option for property owners in the UK, and per Artemis’ reporting SJNK (Japan) is rolling out similar cover for property owners there.

Is it time to make flood insurance a requirement of all homeowners insurance holders?  Flood Re seems a reasonable model to follow, and even with disparate regulatory bodies action can be taken to have an entire region/state/country participating.  Flood perils are growing, so are costs, so is the exposure to critical economic areas.  Smarter approaches to private flood insurance that is based on knowledge of not only insurance but on the factors behind flooding and risk as is used by Chris Greene at FloodInsuranceGuru are needed.  Partnerships such as experienced with Previsico and Loughborough University need to be supported.  Subsidized premiums are OK, but much greater breadth of participation is required to make programs even remotely viable.  The underwriting, mapping, and response tech is there, the political and economic will must be also.

 

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Wildfires and disasters- ecosystem opportunity to leverage InsurTech and innovation

Image Take a US $8 billion dollar insurance business that serves more than 7 million customers annually regarding residential real estate assets valued at more than US $5 trillion, that’s working in a regulated, politically hyped environment and one might see opportunity for innovation.  Throw in significant exposure to regional wildfires and urban area earthquakes, […]

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Wildfires and disasters- terribly good opportunity to leverage InsurTech and innovation

Image Take a US $8 billion dollar insurance business that serves more than 7 million customers annually regarding residential real estate assets valued at more than US $5 trillion, that’s working in a regulated, politically hyped environment and one might see opportunity for innovation.  Throw in significant exposure to regional wildfires and urban area earthquakes, […]

The post Wildfires and disasters- terribly good opportunity to leverage InsurTech and innovation appeared first on Daily Fintech.